Friends, family and fans of Fox's American Idol contestants have been gathering across America to party, swap stories, cheer and cast votes for their hometown heroes. We dropped in on three of these supercharged events.
Vonzell Solomon's Party
Fort Myers, Fla.
Local postal workers in this Gulf Coast city have been trading in their government-issue duds for the "Vonzell Solomon" uniform, complete with a big, blue button emblazoned with a photo of their favorite AI contestant.
They're out to support Solomon, a 20-year-old mail carrier. What started as a small gathering of coworkers has grown into hundreds of fans turning out to celebrate this local girl at five different places. On a recent Tuesday night, more than 70 people showed up at Hurricane Harry's bar and restaurant for one of the biggest Vonzell gatherings. Amid the faux-tiki hut decorations, fans stomp, clap and jump around as Vonzell belts out "Respect."
"It's like one of my kids is up there," says post office clerk Nancy Koerner
, 51. "It's very nerve-racking." As the credits roll, the sound of cell phones snapping open fills the room. "I dial the number, and then I keep trying," says Robert Simon
, 68, who has gotten caught up in the excitement. "Redial, redial. If it's busy, dial again."
"With all the devastation we've had, it's kind of brought everybody together," says Vonzell's coworker Judy Carson
, 49, referring to Hurricane Charley's impact on Florida last summer. "It's given us something to root for."—Chris Wadsworth Anthony Fedorov's PartyFeasterville, Pennsylvania
With buddy Anthony Fedorov an AI
finalist, Robert Fleyshman
's 60-inch TV has become action central on Tuesday nights for those who know the 19-year-old Ukraine native's easy smile and love of music. "If it's raining, he's singing," says Vera Korshunova
, 20, who's known him for four years and is one of 24 at the gathering.
The show begins and host Ryan Seacrest
introduces Anthony, who flashes a V sign, drawing a big whoop. Irina Gleyzer
, Anthony's 21-year-old girlfriend, leaps up and poses next to the life-size TV image of her boyfriend. Anthony rips into the Marc Anthony
number "I've Got You," yet no one moves. Until he finishes. More cheers.
"Shhhhh!" someone hisses. Randy Jackson
speaks: "I think this is the best you've done." Screams. Paula Abdul
concurs. More screams. Simon Cowell
? "You have about as much Latin flair as a polar bear." Lusty boos.
When Fedorov's voting phone number flashes across the screen, everyone stops scarfing pizza to punch it into cell phones. They'll vote hundreds of times for the full two hours. Fedorov's older brother, Denis, 27, a paralegal, says his technique involves two cell phones. "With one, I call over and over," he says. "With the other, I text-message."
Moments after 9 pm, Anthony calls Fleyshman. "I'm going to bring it home," the "Miracle Boy" says, adding, "OK, I have to go now, but maybe later I will go to Alaska and sing some duets with the polar bears."
When Gleyzer's now-famous BF rings her cell, she screams, "Oh, my god! It's Anthony!" Then she coos to him, "I thought you were awesome. Yeah. We're all here. You sounded rich, perfect... It was hot." Suddenly, she looks around and discovers everyone is staring at her. "All right," she laughs. "Now I feel weird!" —Michael Klein Nikko Smith's PartySt. Louis, Mo.
Spirits are high one Monday night as 100 fans cheer on AI
finalist Nikko Smith. The scene is Ozzie's Restaurant & Sports Bar, owned by Nikko's dad, Ozzie Smith
, the former St. Louis Cardinal and baseball Hall of Famer.
Fans, sporting Ozzie-designed T-shirts emblazoned with Nikko's face, have gathered for the weekly viewing party amid balloons and hot wings. Nikko's cousin Fred Smith, 23, decided to help organize the event, saying, "A lot of people [were] trying to figure out where to watch with all the fans." He describes the scene as "nonstop pandemonium."
But these parties end sadly the following Wednesday when the 22-year-old is voted off the show, dashing his Top 12 dreams. With his son out, AI
is over for Ozzie — or so he thinks — though Nikko will continue to watch in support of his roommate, finalist Bo Bice
. "I'm very proud of the way Nikko performed," says Ozzie, 50. "He was professional the way he went about it... gracious in winning and in defeat. He didn't lose. It's just the beginning for him."
Indeed it is. The sudden exit of Mario Vazquez
allowed for Nikko's re-entry into the contest — and a new round of Ozzie's parties, especially since he survived last week's cut
. No doubt the Nikko boosters will all be watching tonight's Idol
(9 pm/ET on Fox) to root him on together. —Kevin C. Johnson